28 December 2005
Creation of Peacebuilding Commission, Emergency Response Fund Highlights, as 60th General Assembly Takes First Steps towards Major UN Reform
Debate on Several Other Key Issues, Including Proposed Human Rights Council, Comprehensive Anti-Terrorism Convention Will Continue in 2006
NEW YORK, 27 December (UN Headquarters) -- Tasked by world leaders at the largest summit in United Nations history with giving new momentum to global development goals and strengthening the 60-year-old world body, the General Assembly wrapped up its 2005 substantive session agreeing on two landmark decisions: to establish a new Peacebuilding Commission that will help countries make the transition from war to peace, and to launch a new standby relief fund that will provide instant cash in the wake of natural disasters.
Those decisions, which cap what Secretary-General Kofi Annan has described as a "difficult year" for the United Nations and the world community -- from the Indian Ocean tsunami and other natural disasters to events in Lebanon, the Sudan's strife-torn Darfur and beyond -- mark the first major steps towards the renewed United Nations Mr. Annan envisioned his report, In Larger Freedom, and mandated by Heads of State at the 2005 World Summit, which kicked off the Assembly's sixtieth anniversary session this past September.
Left pending, however, were the more nettlesome Summit proposals, with decisions on the creation of an upgraded Human Rights Council, completion of negotiations on an anti-terrorism convention and a plan to increase oversight of United Nations activities, all delayed, so far, until next year. The Assembly also pledged to continue the search for common ground in its decade-long effort to make the 15-nation Security Council more reflective of the wider United Nations membership and modern geopolitical realities.
"We have a chance to prove ourselves, to prove the relevance of the United Nations", said Assembly President Jan Eliasson of Sweden when the 191-Member body adopted a resolution setting up the Peacebuilding Commission, which, for the first time in United Nations history, ensures that for countries emerging from war, "post-conflict does not mean post-engagement of the international community". He called the vote "historic" and "our best chance to reverse the trend, which in recent years, has seen around half the countries end their fighting only to lapse back into conflict within five years."
While many parts of the United Nations have been involved in peacebuilding, until now the system has lacked a dedicated entity to oversee the entire process and ensure its coherence over the long haul. The new Commission is seen as an intergovernmental advisory body that will make sure attention is maintained on the countries in question, setting its agenda at the request of the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), the Secretary-General, or Member States on the "verge of lapsing or relapsing into conflict".
The Peacebuilding Commission will have 31 members. Seven will come from the Security Council, including the five permanent members -- the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China. Another seven will be from ECOSOC, elected from regional groups; five top contributors to the United Nations budget; and five top providers of military personnel and civilian police to United Nations missions. The General Assembly will elect seven additional members, with special consideration for States that have experienced post-conflict recovery. The Assembly will review the Commission's work annually.
With the international community still recovering from a year of devastating disasters -- from the Indian Ocean tsunami and earthquakes in Asia, to hurricanes in the Americas and drought in Africa -- the Assembly established the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), replacing the current Central Emergency Revolving Fund, to ensure a swifter response to humanitarian emergencies, with funds, expected to total $500 million, made available within three to four days.
Noting that the Fund ushered in an era of more effective and equitable responses to crises, Assembly President Eliasson said that, while it was sad to note that natural disasters were on the rise and that their intensity was increasing, it was heartening to see that important progress was being made, and that international resolve and commitment was building towards the ultimate goal of providing as much help and assistance as possible to disaster-stricken communities and populations in a speedy and comprehensive manner.
In the wake of the failure of two major opportunities this year to advance the twin goals of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation -- the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the September World Summit -- the Assembly adopted 60 texts on the recommendation of its First Committee (Disarmament and International Security). One third was devoted to nuclear issues, in light of the growing spectre of nuclear proliferation and the slow pace of nuclear disarmament. The pattern of recorded votes, including several on separate provisions, reflected divisions over how best to enhance global security. Two texts in particular demonstrated the opposing viewpoints -- one on the need for compliance with nuclear non-proliferation agreements and the other urging pursuit of agreed nuclear disarmament obligations.
Acting on the recommendations of its Second Committee (Economic and Financial), the Assembly adopted 38 resolutions, with several stressing the importance of trade access, debt relief, increased official development assistance (ODA) and an improved international financial architecture to supplement developing country efforts at economic growth. Others highlighted the detrimental effects of globalization, increasing natural disasters, climate change and desertification. In addition, it adopted a new draft on global partnerships and texts on humanitarian and disaster assistance to Kazakhstan, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Somalia, and El Salvador and Guatemala; and separate drafts proclaiming 2008 as international years of the potato and planet Earth.
The Assembly also adopted 52 resolutions and eight decisions recommended by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), including a first-ever text on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which expressed serious concern over the continuation of widespread human rights violations in that country and the Government's refusal to cooperate with the Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur assigned to investigate the matter. Such country-specific texts led to intense debate during the Committee's 2005 session, where many members of the Non-Aligned Movement claimed that the practice of targeting developing countries while ignoring rights abuses in the developed world ran contrary to the United Nations human rights reform process.
Acting on the recommendations of the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), the Assembly adopted 25 resolutions and three decisions -- 15 by a recorded vote -- on issues including on decolonization, information, the effects of atomic radiation, international cooperation for the peaceful uses of outer space, the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and Israeli practices in the occupied territories. Ten of the texts focused on the Middle East, including five on UNRWA and five on the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices. The Committee also reviewed United Nations peacekeeping and assistance in mine action.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) had serious difficulties reaching consensus, finally recommending a 2006-2007 budget of $3.79 billion, with a provision that limited spending in the first part of the first year to $950 million and the remainder subject to a later request by the Secretary-General. That compromise, as delegations said in their statements to the Assembly, allowed operating expenditures for approximately the first half of the year, while management reforms mandated by the 2005 Summit could be concurrently pursued. The Committee also recommended financing for a new ethics office, an Independent Audit Advisory Committee, an interim budget to continue the design and pre-construction phase of the Capital Master Plan and peacekeeping budgets for Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which together total more than $3 billion.
In addition to its customary role in codifying international legal norms in emerging fields, the Sixth Committee (Legal) this year completed an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which would extend the legal protections of the 1994 Convention to personnel involved in humanitarian activities in the field without the complicated declaration of "exceptional risk" required by the Convention. Also this year, the Committee's Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism was asked to continue elaborating a comprehensive convention on terrorism during its next session from 27 February to 3 March with a view to finalizing the text by closing a gap in views about the convention's applicability.
Summary of the plenary and Main Committees follows.
The Assembly's sixtieth anniversary session kicked off with a three-day High-Level Plenary Meeting -- known as the 2005 World Summit -- at which the largest gathering of world leaders in United Nations history pledged to take action on a wide range of global issues and made a strong commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goals -- a series of ambitious targets, ranging from halving extreme poverty, to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and to providing universal primary education by 2015.
Acknowledging that peace, security, development and human rights were central pillars of the United Nations, the leaders reaffirmed in the Summit's sweeping outcome document that "development was a central goal ... and that sustainable development in its economic, social and environmental aspects constituted a key element of the overarching framework of the United Nations activities".
Among other things, they also pledged an additional $50 billion a year to fight poverty, and reaffirmed their commitment to address the special needs of Africa. The leaders also stressed that they were prepared to take collective action, in a "timely and decisive manner", through the Security Council and in accordance with the Charter, to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, when peaceful means prove inadequate and national authorities are manifestly failing to do it.
Within 12 hours of the Summit's conclusion, the Assembly opened its annual general debate, where, in his opening address, Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged political leaders to be genuine in their commitment to United Nations reform and to press ahead this year on a package of fresh initiatives aimed at tackling poverty, terrorism, human rights abuses and twenty-first century conflicts. He also cautioned that the international community must urgently begin to remedy its "distressing failures on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament".
With most of the discussions focused on following up the pledges made at the Summit, many political leaders from developing countries told the Assembly that the event had fallen short of their expectations, chiefly on boosting development aid -- particularly to Africa -- and tearing down trade barriers. Though the event had been billed as a five-year review of the Millennium Declaration, unfortunately, most developing countries would be unable to achieve the Goals and targets pledged in 2000, given the current levels of their growth and levels of international support.
From the need to promote dialogue and understanding among the world's peoples, cultures and religions to finding ways to expedite worldwide efforts to improve road safety, when the Assembly turned to specific items on its agenda, delegations expressed concern on a range of issues. A sombre highlight was the Assembly's decision that the United Nations would designate 27 January -- the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp -- as an annual International Day of Commemoration to honour the victims of the Holocaust, and urged Member States to develop educational programmes to instil the memory of the tragedy in future generations to prevent genocide from occurring again.
The Assembly's annual debate on reforming the Security Council took on a different tenor this year, as, for the first time in the 10-year life of the discussion, delegations weighed concrete proposals and formulas for expanding the 15-nation body to better reflect modern geopolitical realities. Among those was that of the so-called "G-4" -- Brazil, Germany, India and Japan -- which proposed expanding the Council membership to 25 by adding six permanent members, with veto power, and four non-permanent members.
An African Union proposal calls for 11 additional members on the Council, with Africa gaining two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats. It also recommends that new permanent members gain all existing privileges, including veto power. The "Uniting for Consensus" group tabled its alternative proposal: adding 10 non-permanent members immediately eligible for re-election to the Council, leaving formalities of re-election and rotation to regional groups.
At President Eliasson's urging, the Assembly also kept its focus on pressing issues of the day, adopting resolutions which called on the international community to maintain its focus on the Middle East peace process by maintaining support for both the Palestinian and Israeli sides towards a final settlement; support war-weary Afghanistan as it completes its political process; and improve understanding of biodiversity.
Maintaining the United Nations commitment to the recovery of the tsunami-ravaged Indian Ocean region, the Assembly also deferred for three years the start of the transition period for the graduation of the Maldives from the list of least developed countries, so that the country's development momentum would not be disrupted, while its Government coped with the social and economic fallout from the unprecedented natural disaster. The Assembly also set the dates for its high-level follow-up meeting on the outcome of its twenty-sixth special session on HIV/AIDS, scheduled for 31 May and 1-2 June.
The looming threat of use of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, the trafficking in nuclear technology, and disagreement over how to confront those dangers, prompted the submission this year in the Disarmament Committee of several new drafts and the substantial revision of some traditional ones. Urging members to put aside "pure pursuit of national interests" and make a collective decision about disarmament and non-proliferation, the Committee Chairman, Y.J. Choi (Republic of Korea), warned them of the urgent need to overcome the "self-defeating dynamics of our time" and reverse the paralysis in disarmament and non-proliferation.
Addressing a broad spectrum of disarmament and security issues, the Assembly adopted 60 texts on the recommendation of its First Committee, with one third devoted to nuclear issues. The voting pattern -- 39 separate recorded votes -- including several on separate provisions, reflected the divisions over how best to break the deadlock on the most pressing challenges and enhance global security.
By the terms of a new text, submitted by the United States, the Assembly urged those States not currently in compliance with their obligations under non-proliferation, arms limitation and disarmament agreements to make the strategic decision to come back into compliance. It stressed that failure to comply not only adversely affected the security of States parties, but could also create security risks for other States relying on the constraints and commitments stipulated in those agreements.
An Iranian-led text had the Assembly emphasize that nuclear disarmament was the way forward, and express grave concern over the failure of the 2005 Review Conference of the NPT to reach any substantive agreement on the follow-up of the nuclear disarmament obligations. It called for practical steps, as agreed in 2000, to be taken by all nuclear-weapon States leading to nuclear disarmament in a way that promoted global stability.
Another new draft, submitted by France, expressed deep concern over the risk that terrorists might use radioactive materials in radiological dispersion devices and called on countries to support global efforts to prevent and, if necessary, suppress the acquisition and use by terrorists of radioactive materials. It also urged Member States to take and strengthen national measures to prevent terrorists' acquisition and use of radioactive materials, as well as terrorist attacks on nuclear facilities which would result in radioactive releases.
A new resolution on ballistic missile proliferation had the Assembly express concern about the increasing regional and global security challenges caused by, among other things, the proliferation of ballistic missiles capable of delivering weapons of mass destruction. It welcomed the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation. A decision on ballistic missiles would ensure inclusion of the item on the provisional agenda of the Assembly's next session.
In the conventional weapons sphere, the Committee recommended, among other texts, the adoption of an international instrument to enable States to identify and trace, in a timely and reliable manner, illicit small arms and light weapons. By another new text, the Assembly recognized that the appropriate controls with regard to the security and safety of stockpiles of conventional ammunition, explosive materials and detonating devices are indispensable at the national level, in order to eliminate the risk of explosion, pollution or diversion. It called on interested States to determine the size of their surplus stockpiles, if they represent a security risk and if assistance is needed to eliminate this risk.
Reinvigorating the disarmament machinery was especially compelling in light of the persistent deadlocks over the agendas of both the Conference on Disarmament and the Disarmament Commission, so relevant drafts were submitted and approved. (In a resumed organizational session on 12 December, the Disarmament Commission reached agreement on a provisional agenda for its 2006 substantive session, which included an item on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.)
With the December Hong Kong World Trade Organization (WTO) talks looming, Second Committee (Economic and Financial) delegates this year repeatedly stressed the need to open up markets to developing country goods, eliminate distorting domestic subsidies, stabilize commodity prices and grant special and preferential treatment to the poorest countries in spurring development.
Supplementing trade, they highlighted the importance of increasing capital flows to developing countries, relieving middle-income country debt, and reaching internationally agreed quotas for official development assistance. Emphasizing that the developing world had worked to fulfil its commitments to promote domestic resources, attract foreign investment, and eliminate corruption, they urged developed countries to honour theirs.
Delegates also stressed the need to bolster the international financial system in averting global crises, improve debt restructuring, and protect developing countries from external shocks. In addition, steps should be taken to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative impacts of globalization, which often served to marginalize developing economies from global economic growth. Developing countries needed increased access to information and communication technologies, better human resource skills, and microcredit to stimulate employment and entrepreneurship.
Among other major impediments to development, delegates noted, were the negative effects of climate change, natural disasters, desertification, rising oil prices, and transport problems, especially for least developed, landlocked and small island developing States. Given the recent spate of natural disasters, such countries vitally needed assistance in putting together national and regional early warning systems and boosting their disaster-response capacities.
Another popular topic during this year's session was the developmental role of international migration and migrant remittances, which delegates emphasized should be regarded strictly as private, rather than official, forms of assistance. In managing migration, they also highlighted the need to ease remittance transactions, protect migrants' rights, and tackle illegal immigrants, as well as human trafficking. Hopefully, the 2006 General Assembly high-level dialogue on international migration and development would focus world attention on the need to better harness its benefits.
During several "side events", the Committee heard keynote speakers and held debates focusing on such topics as external debt relief, public-private partnerships, natural disasters, microcredit, operational activities for development, and remittances. During a discussion on global partnerships, a new item for the Committee, delegates underscored the importance of corporate responsibility, urging the international community to promote respect for local communities and eradicate human rights abuses.
Nine of the 40 resolutions the Committee approved this year were by recorded vote, including texts relating to trade, desertification, climate change, international migration, least developed countries and the sovereignty of occupied Arab peoples over their natural resources. It also approved macroeconomic texts related to external debt, the international financial system, and financing for development.
The Assembly also adopted 52 resolutions and eight decisions recommended by its Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), including a first-ever text on the human rights situation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which expressed serious concern over the continuation of widespread human rights violations in that country and the Government's refusal to cooperate with the Commission on Human Rights' Special Rapporteur assigned to investigate the matter.
The draft -- like several other texts pointing to human rights abuses in specific countries -- reflected the Assembly's serious concern over reports of torture, public executions, arbitrary detention, the lack of due process, extensive use of forced labour, severe restrictions on freedom of religion and expression, trafficking of women and high rates of infant malnutrition and restrictions on humanitarian organizations attempting to deliver food aid in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Such country-specific texts had led to much heated debate during the Committee's 2005 session, where many members of the Non-Aligned Movement had claimed that the Committee's practice of targeting developing countries while ignoring human rights abuses in the developed world ran contrary to the United Nations human rights reform process. Moreover, they had stressed, it would make the new Human Rights Council as politicized as its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights, which had long been hamstrung by finger-pointing, selectivity and double standards.
But several developed countries' representative had argued that it was the Committee's responsibility to speak out against particularly egregious human rights abuses and ensure that all countries comply with international human rights and humanitarian norms. The Committee also approved a text on basic principles and guidelines on the right to reparations for victims of gross international human rights violations. The parameters -- which had been negotiated over a 15-year period and were considered indispensable in the fight against impunity -- would help victims and their representatives, as well as States design and implement public policies on reparations.
Similarly, another text called on States to fully condemn and prohibit all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It sent a strong signal that attempts by States or public officials to authorize or legalize torture for reasons of national security or to fight terrorism were not justifiable and that diplomatic assurances between States did not release those States from their obligations under international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.
In addition, it approved texts supporting global efforts to totally eliminate racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and to implement and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, expressing deep concern over the increase in anti-Semitism, Christianophobia and Islamophobia in various parts of the world and the emergence of violent movements based on racism and discriminatory ideas. The Assembly also adopted texts on implementation of the World Programme of Action concerning disabled persons and other social development concerns, the rights of refugees worldwide, migrants and internally displaced persons and the elderly, as well as resolutions on international drug control, crime prevention and criminal justice.
As in former sessions, issues of Israeli practices in the occupied territories and the work of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) took up a major part of the Fourth Committee's (Special Political and Decolonization) deliberations. Ten of the 25 texts approved by the Committee, all but one by recorded votes, focused on Middle East-related issues. The Committee approved a draft by which the Assembly called on Israel to take measures to protect UNRWA's personnel and facilities, to cease obstructing its work, and to compensate the Agency for damage to its property.
By one of the five draft resolutions approved on Israeli practices, the Assembly, while welcoming Israel's disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank as a step towards implementation of the "Road Map", called on Israel to comply with international law with respect to alteration of the character and status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem. By another text, the Assembly demanded that Israel cease immediately all practices and actions taken in violation and in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, while condemning all acts of terror, incitement and destruction, and expressing grave concern at the use of suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians.
Among 12 texts approved on decolonization issues, six by a recorded vote, the Committee approved a text regarding the intention of Tokelau, in cooperation with its administering Power, New Zealand, and with assistance from the United Nations, to hold a referendum on the issue of self-determination. This year, the Committee also reached consensus on a draft resolution on the Western Sahara and on other Non-Self-Governing Territories, as well as on a draft decision regarding Gibraltar, in which it welcomed a new mechanism for dialogue between the Governments of Spain, United Kingdom and Gibraltar.
Briefing the Committee on peacekeeping matters, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, said current United Nations missions affected the lives of 200 million people worldwide and detailed his Department's achievements, challenges and needs, pointing out that the Department remained seriously overstressed. He outlined five priorities for the Department: people; doctrine; partnerships; organization; and resources. In the debate that followed, topics discussed were the importance of security for United Nations and associated peacekeeping personnel; mainstreaming of a gender perspective throughout all peacekeeping activities; importance of training in peacekeeping; necessity of addressing root causes of conflict; and unacceptability of sexual violence committed by peacekeepers.
On questions relating to information, the Committee approved two draft resolutions and one draft decision. By a comprehensive draft resolution on the United Nations public information policies and activities, the Assembly stressed the importance of a coherent and results-oriented approach by the Organization's entities involved in public information activities and the provision of resources for their implementation. It also stressed the importance of rationalizing the United Nations information centres, provided such rationalization must be carried out in consultation and case by case with all Member States concerned. It emphasized the importance of ensuring the full and equitable treatment of all official languages in all activities of the Department of Public Information.
The Committee also approved a draft resolution on assistance in mine-action, by which the Assembly urged non-State actors to halt immediately and unconditionally new deployments of mines and associated explosive devices. Noting the potential that mine action could have as a peacebuilding and confidence-building measure in post-conflict situations, it would declare that 4 April of each year shall be observed as International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The Committee also considered, and approved texts on, the effects on atomic radiation and peaceful uses of outer space.
The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) encountered serious problems in reaching consensus on the 2006-2007 budget, with delegation concerned over the rising costs and the need for management reforms mandated by the 2005 World Summit.
The Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher Burnham, told correspondents at a press conference in the last week of the Assembly session that a number of Member States, including the United States and Japan, had expressed concern about the cost of the United Nations, which had skyrocketed in the last 20 years. "If you include peacekeeping, we are brushing up against $10 billion now", he said. With that, global taxpayers "absolutely required" accountability, transparency and ethics.
That sentiment was shared by the Secretary-General, who -- presenting his $3.8 billion United Nations budget proposal for 2006-2007 on 25 October -- stressed the need to push forward the management reform within the Organization, saying that "business as usual" was not an option in today's changed environment.
With the negotiations on the matter at an impasse and the Christmas break quickly approaching, however, he appealed to all Member States in his end-of-the-year press conference to resolve their differences promptly, pointing out that the World Summit's serious programme for reform -- the cost of which has been estimated at $73.37 million -- "hangs by a thread if the United Nations is stalled by lack of a budget".
As a way out of the stalemate, the Committee, late in the evening on 23 December, agreed on a compromise that set the total budget for the next two years at $3.79 billion, but placed a limit on the first year's spending at $950 million, thus allowing it to pay the bills for approximately the six first months of 2006, with the remaining funds subject to a later request.
Having considered the Secretary-General's report on the implementation of the outcome of the September Summit, the Assembly also noted the resources needed to provide for the establishment of an ethics office and decided to establish an Independent Audit Advisory Committee to provide assistance in the discharge of the Assembly's oversight responsibilities. In that connection, the Secretary-General was requested to propose the Committee's terms of reference and report to the second resumed session on related resource requirements. The Assembly also established a Working Capital Fund, which was set at $100 million for the biennium 2006-2007.
Also on the recommendations of its Budget Committee, the Assembly approved the financing for peacekeeping missions in Haiti, Côte d'Ivoire, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which total over $3 billion together. An amount of $23.78 million was approved for the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste -- a special political mission -- for the period 21 May to 31 December 2005.
The Assembly also adopted a 2006-2007 budget of some $269.76 million for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and $305.14 million for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. It also approved $225.68 million for the Department of Safety and Security; a $10.51 million budget for the Joint Inspection Unit; and $16.21 million for the International Civil Service Commission (ICSC).
The Assembly also provided an interim budget of $8.2 million for the Capital Master Plan, without prejudice to the decision at a later stage regarding the strategy for implementation of the Plan. The amount will allow the design and pre-construction phase to continue during the first four months of 2006. The Assembly will revert to the issue, as a matter of priority, next March.
Among other issues addressed by the Fifth Committee were the role of the Committee for Programme and Coordination; human resources management; the recommendations of the ICSC; the scale of assessments for calculating Member States' dues to the Organization; and the oversight system of the United Nations.
Legal protection of United Nations and related workers in the field took a big step forward this year with the Assembly's adoption of an eight-article Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel that the Sixth Committee (Legal) finalized during its session. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Assembly President Jan Eliasson were both present at the adoption to hail the instrument that extends legal protection to personnel delivering emergency humanitarian assistance or providing humanitarian, political or development assistance in peacebuilding, whereas the Convention itself had required a complicated declaration of "exceptional risk" before such protection applied.
The Optional Protocol will open for signature at United Nations Headquarters for 12 months, starting on 16 January 2006. It will enter into force 30 days after 22 countries have ratified it. The resolution adopting the Optional Protocol was contained in one of nine reports submitted this year by the Legal Committee. The resolutions contained in them were all adopted without a vote, just as they were approved by the Committee.
Of major focus was the Committee's report on measures against international terrorism, containing a resolution that called for the Ad Hoc Committee on Terrorism to reconvene from 27 February to 3 March 2006 to continue elaborating a comprehensive convention against international terrorism on an expedited basis and to notify the Assembly at its current session at completion of a finalized text. Also at its meeting, the Ad Hoc Committee was to continue deliberating the convening of a high-level conference under United Nations auspices to formulate a joint organized response on all aspects of terrorism.
While elaboration of the comprehensive convention is nearly complete, the outstanding issues are legal points of the highest complexity at the international level, with a wide range of competing views on whether the activities of "armed forces" should be exempted from the scope of the convention's application since those were covered by international humanitarian law. Also at issue is whether an exemption should also cover armed resistance groups involved in struggles against colonial domination and foreign occupation. Finally, the status of State military forces was in question and whether there were circumstances in which official actions could be considered acts of terrorism.
New elements in the text this year are a reaffirmation of the wording in the 2005 World Summit Outcome document and recall of the opening for signature of the Convention regarding nuclear terrorism that was adopted a year earlier. Also, the text calls for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) in Vienna to enhance the Organization's capabilities in preventing terrorism, notes the Secretariat's publication of a review of national legal approaches to terrorism, and calls on the Secretary-General to submit, by early 2006, a set of proposals on strengthening the United Nations capacity to assist States in combating terrorism and on strengthening the Organization's coordination towards that end.
In other work this year, the Committee adopted two texts elaborated by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). One of those dealt with legislative guides on procurement, commercial arbitration, transport law and secured transactions, including elements of the Commission's technical assistance programmes in international trade law reform and development. The other dealt with a United Nations Convention on Electronic Communications in International Contracts that was later adopted by the General Assembly, to be opened for signature at Headquarters from 18 January 2006 to 16 January 2008. The Convention contains two Model Laws, one on Electronic Commerce and another on Electronic Signatures.
In its customary 10-day consideration of the International Law Commission's report, the Committee called attention to the Commission's request that Governments forward views on draft articles and commentaries on diplomatic protection and on draft principles concerning allocation of loss in the case of transboundary harm arising out of hazardous activities. The Committee also presented a resolution that was later approved by the Assembly for the Commission's next session to be held in Geneva from 1 May to 9 June and from 3 July to 11 August 2006.
The next meeting date of the Special Committee on the Charter and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization was also determined to be held from 3 to 13 April 2006. The Special Committee would continue to give priority to consideration of implementing Charter provisions with an aim towards assisting third States affected by sanctions.
* *** *